Born 1949, Bluefield, Mercer County
Born in Bluefield and raised near Mt. Hope, Ethel Caffie-Austin is known as West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music.” She began playing piano at the age of six, started accompanying church services at nine, and directed her first choir at age 11. Ethel is a graduate of West Virginia Institute of Technology, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Language Arts. She was conferred an honorary Doctor of Arts degree in May 1997 by Davis and Elkins College.
Throughout her life, she has carried on a rich tradition of African-American gospel singing, piano playing and worship. She has taken her music and ministry into prisons, schools and government housing projects, and has performed at festivals across the country and in Europe.
Caffie-Austin is also in demand as a clinician and often presents gospel workshops in conjunction with the Vandalia Gathering. She founded the Black Sacred Music Festival at West Virginia State University in Institute, and has several recordings and an instructional videotape to her credit. She was the subject of the 1999 documentary film entitled His Eye is on the Sparrow and a 1997 Goldenseal magazine article, “Hand-Clapping and Hallelujahs: A Visit with Ethel Caffie-Austin.”
In 2010, she contributed a song to The Harry Smith Connection: A Live Tribute To The Anthology Of American Folk Music.